Coronavirus? Johns Hopkins doctor says you’re more likely to get the flu

A Maryland doctor familiar with highly infectious diseases says U.S. residents should be more concerned about catching the flu rather than the coronavirus that’s making headlines.

“We’re in the middle of flu season,” said Dr. Brian Garibaldi, medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit. “It is much more likely that you’re going to come in contact with the flu than you are with the novel coronavirus at this stage of the game. I hope it stays that way.”

The same precautions taken to prevent the flu can also help avoid coronavirus, Garibaldi said. He urges everyone to wash their hands often, only cough and sneeze into a tissue or the inside of an elbow and stay home when exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

The biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins was created in 2014, along with only nine others nationwide, in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The unit, formally called the Region 3 Regional Ebola and Other Special Pathogens Treatment Center (RESPTC), can be ready within eight hours to receive a patient with confirmed Ebola from its region, which includes D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

It’s a negative-pressure unit with three separate rooms for patients and the built-in ability to sterilize all the waste coming out of it.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The unit at Johns Hopkins has never been used to treat a confirmed Ebola case, but it has been the site of frequent training over the years, making it a valuable hub as new viruses evolve.

“The training and the procedures that we’ve developed have really led to an improved awareness and opportunity to enhance infection control throughout the hospital, so I think the entire health system is better prepared because of our efforts,” Garibaldi said.

Based on current information, coronavirus patients can be treated in airborne isolation rooms that all hospitals have, so they don’t need to be sent to a biocontainment unit, Garibaldi said.

“But since we have this resource, and we don’t know how likely it will be that we’ll have sustained person-to-person spread, our posture has been we’ll take care of the first patients as needed in our biocontainment unit,” Garibaldi said. “Then we have contingency plans, not just at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but all other hospitals through Maryland have the capability to provide care for patients if it becomes more than just a handful of cases in Maryland.”

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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